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Is It Safe To Use A Public BBQ Grill?

A rusty BBQ grill with charcoal remains in the bottom at a state park

Public grills always seem to get bad reviews, which is understandable, as they usually are covered with leftovers from previous meals that other people have cooked. They seem to be a favorite perch for birds as their droppings are generally evident on them. The insides always have ash piles that serve as a reminder that those rusty public grills could have been used to cook anything, which brings us to whether it is safe or not to use one?

Yes, it is safe to make use of a public grill. A bit of cleaning, coupled with a little know-how, will make a public grill a safe cooking surface. The steps include: scrubbing the grates, emptying the debris or ashes, covering the grates with foil or pre-heating, and finally, cleaning up.

Grilling outdoors when staying at a campground or in the park is a doable task. Cooking outside while van camping is a big part of the camping experience.

Cooking in the fresh air and smelling the smoky aroma as the food cooks and the outdoorsy taste the food has makes meals cooked on a grill a delicious gastronomic experience that you will want to enjoy more often.

Continue reading to learn the steps you can take to give you peace of mind when cooking on a public grill.

Is It Safe to Use a Public BBQ Grill?

If you’ve been persuaded to partake in this wonderful experience of public grilling, outlined below are some ideas and steps which will aid you in your first experience. These steps are to ensure you have the best experience and also provide you with safe grilled BBQ.

1. Scrubbing the grates

The first step is to scrub the grates in the best way possible. Cleaning the grates will be similar to cleaning a standard kettle charcoal grill. You are not wiping to make it sparkling clean but to scrub off possible food or carbon, which might be stuck on it. Make use of a bunched-up piece of foil or better still, a grill brush.

You should ensure you wipe it as clean as you can irrespective of the fact that you’ll cover the grates with foil or still wipe them again as soon as the grill becomes hot. Some might be wondering if it’s better to use soapy water to wash the grates. That’s fine too. Just make sure you rinse the soapy water off very thoroughly as you won’t want it to contaminate your BBQ.

2. Removing ashes or any debris

The next step is to empty the debris or ashes. The most convenient way is to place your hand in a plastic bag and use it to scoop or sweep the debris or ashes into another plastic bag so you can dispose of them. If you discover that you cannot clean out some of the debris, it’s safer to move to another grill. Some grills might have ash catchers in them. It is a good idea to empty it before you start grilling.

3. Foil to cover the grates

Covering the grates of the grill with foil is the next step. If you feel really hesitant about using the grill directly, you should proceed and overlay the grill with foil and make some holes in the foil before lighting the grill. Using foil is particularly essential if you plan to grill small items, which might fall through the grates.

Is it safe to use aluminum foil?

Studies have shown concerns that the daily use of aluminum foil during cooking can be hazardous to one’s health. However, the regular aluminum exposure you have from foods and cooking is considered okay, as healthy people can excrete the tiny bits of aluminum absorbed by the body. But if you are worried about using it, you can always skip the foil and use a workaround.

4. Pre-heat the grill when not using foil

However, quite a few people do not like to use foil, hence the need to pre-heat the grill first for a little while. Heating might take about 20 minutes to make sure the grill is ready to be cooked with. Give the grill grates another quick brush once you are prepared to grill to scrub off any bits that are still stuck on. To create more of a non-stick surface, you need to oil the gates. For those who like the classic char marks, this is the method to use.

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Hamburgers cooking on a public BBQ grill


Public grills require charcoal. Some charcoal comes treated with lighter fluid, which you can start with a long match. Our favorite method is to use untreated charcoal and start it using a charcoal chimney.

The charcoal should be heated for at least 20 minutes before cooking can begin. The briquettes should be coated with gray ash when they are ready to cook with.

Charcoal grills have this natural smoky flavor and will get hotter, although they are harder to clean. For foods that cook faster such as hot dogs or burgers, you should make use of the direct heat, while indirect heat should be used for slow-cooking meats.

How hot should the charcoal be?

The charcoal should be hot enough to get the food adequately done and also kill off all bacteria. Heat-resistance bacteria cannot survive at a temperature of more than 250°F. Hence it’s necessary to keep your charcoal grill at a temperature more than that.

Since the charcoal grills do not have a regulator, people have found a way to determine how to identify the charcoal’s temperature by holding your palm over the charcoal surface.

According to, hold your hand 5 inches over the charcoal. Be careful doing this so as not to get your hand too close you get burned or catch your clothes on fire. The table below provides Weber’s temperature scale by doing this procedure.

Time to Hold Palm Over the Grill Heat from Grill Range of Temperature
8 to 10 seconds Low 250° to 350°F
5 to 7 seconds Medium 350° to 450°F
2 to 4 seconds High 450° to 550°F

What other equipment is necessary?

It is a necessity when grilling to have a spatula or a pair of tongs, as it makes it easier to turn your meat, so it doesn’t get burnt. Aluminum pans and grilling mitts will also come in quite handy. It’s also essential to remember not to keep turning your food so that you can retain the juices and keep it intact.

Basting your cooking

You should baste at the last 2-5 minutes of your cooking. It’s advisable to wait to when the cooking is almost over before you add any sauce or liquid to your food. Waiting to do this will help to prevent the possibility of the food from getting burnt. A baster or brush is the best tool to put the sauce on with just a few minutes before removing the food from the grill.

Use a food thermometer to check the meat doneness.

Insert the thermometer into the meat’s thickest part, ensuring it stays away and has no bone contact. You can use a digital thermometer or one with a dial whichever one works best for you. It is essential to hold the thermometer in place for enough time to ensure it gets an accurate reading. The internal temperature for each food differs. You must use a thermometer made specifically for meat and poultry.

Remove the meat from the grill as soon as it is at the optimal temperature.

Your meat will continue to cook some after you take it from the grill. Once your meat has reached the ideal temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest before cutting. Waiting to cut the meat will help it to retain moistness.

Van Camping Life Tip: To prevent illness, don’t place your cooked meat back onto the same plate that you had raw meat on without thoroughly washing it with hot, soapy water.

6. Clean Up.

Once grilling is over, and the grills are still hot, brush or scrape the grills all over to remove any remaining food stuck to it. You should also throw away the foil if you used it.

When you are ready to remove the charcoal and ashes, you can pour water over them to extinguish the fire. Stir the charcoal and ashes to help speed up the process. Once the coals are completely cold, wrap them in aluminum foil and dispose of in a noncombustible trash can.

Disposal rules may vary between campgrounds and parks. It is, however, essential for you to find out the regulations upon arrival at any park. It is also imperative for you to be considerate and ensure the next person who uses the grill meets it in a neat and orderly manner.

Facts And Myths About Public Grill BBQ

MYTH: Never Cook Directly on a Public Grill

FACT: Actually, it’s safe to cook on public grills once you clean them before use. All personal grills at home and public grills get dirty. When you cover the grill and heat the charcoal to 500°F, any dirt left on the grill will be broken up by the heat. You can then use bunched up foil or hard brush to clean it.

MYTH: By looking at it, you can tell when the meat is cooked.

FACT: The safe and standard way to know if your food is done is to ensure that it has achieved a safe internal cooking temperature, and you can ascertain this by using a food thermometer.

However, most people do not use the food thermometer, which leaves them at a disadvantage and creates the risk of contracting food-borne illnesses. Also, cooking until the appropriate internal temperature ensures both quality and safety protection.

As you can see, the enjoyment you get from eating grilled food while you are camping can easily be achieved with a little elbow grease and preparation. Most campgrounds and parks will have grills available for you, so you won’t have to take up much-needed space in your van by bringing one with you.

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Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.